A few years ago, after moving to Southern Alberta, I was set to settle into a writer’s life– hiking in the mountains, paddling, fishing, wandering wherever the road led and writing. But on several hikes, I thought, Is this all there is? It wasn’t satisfying. I felt there was more to do. And I couldn’t write.
I decided to enrol in university and complete a degree in English Literature. I felt that it was the only way to grow as a writer. There is nothing like pressure to make me write. Looking back, I have written an astonishing amount including many essays for courses.
Over the past week, I compiled and submitted two poetry collections. One is a poetry collection for children, and the other is a poetry collection for adults. I wrote about 130 poems over the past three years. There are 14 in the children’s collection, and 91 in the adult collection. I also submitted another children’s book manuscript for consideration.
I was happy to have two poems accepted for the (M)othering Anthology last year (forthcoming from Inanna Publications in 2022), and to have been accepted for a project called “Art In Conversation” hosted by Arts Council Wood Buffalo for which I earned a commission to produce a short story called “The Penny.” In addition, a picture book manuscript is accepted for publication with a small press, forthcoming in 2021.
My goal for 2021 is to edit several of my rough-draft novels, two of which I worked on for university creative writing courses. I also need to edit my collection of columns, which will become a memoir.
The past few years have had incredible challenges, too, but I do not dwell on those. Instead, I see how much my family and I have grown over these years, and I am thankful. And I hope now, finally, I can settle down and have a productive writer’s life.
The southern moon beams over the pastures
and the grass is slightly browning as a cool autumn evening puts it to sleep
All the trees say hello
One by one I touch their needles
and thank them
for coming to live with us
I wish them more growth
I know it is not too much to ask
they are already stretching taller
They drop their needles to feed the soil
where a labyrinth of burrows
are full of furry flurries in preparation for winter
I think of Emily’s blue-bottle buzzing when she died
but I’m nowhere near
for I have come
back to this southern moon
where I have living
I hope 2021 will be full of good health, joy, and success for you and for me. As I heard recently, there is enough success to go around.
I moved to Alberta several decades ago. There, I soon became friends with several Indigenous people in high school. In addition, a family member married an Indigenous person; I have Indigenous relatives.
A good friend of mine gave me her bannock recipe. It is much like the baking soda biscuits I knew as a child. However, my friend’s recipe includes a little sugar and is baked in a baking sheet with sides which produces biscuits like squares.
BIRCH BARK BASKETS
A dear friend of mine loves to create practical and art objects with components of nature. She lives in the Fort Chipewyan area. She makes birch bark baskets.
I had a pair of mukluks. I loved them, but I could only wear them when it was before zero outside. Otherwise, they are too hot and the hide would get wet. The mukluks in the story have beading in a flower pattern specific to the Cree of northern Alberta. A close friend of mine whose family is from Elizabeth Settlement near Cold Lake recognized the pattern while she read the book.
Yes, some people still dry fish to preserve it. My family puts fish into a smoker, but we prefer to eat it fresh. The Indigenous people we met in Wood Buffalo National Park fed White Fish to their dogs because that type of fish is quite boney. Other common types, such as Walleye (also known as Pickerel), and Northern Pike (also called Jack Fish), are usually eaten fresh, smoked and dried.
My family hunts. Additionally, many Indigenous people also harvest wild food. Hunting is a heavily regulated practice in Alberta for non-Indigenous people, while Indigenous people may hunt year-round providing they are Band members. People who are decedents of Indigenous people groups may apply for Band membership. They complete an ancestral family tree, provide their I.D., and the Band determines if the applicant qualifies for Band membership.
In addition, the children pick berries in the story. My family also likes to harvest wild berries. They are plentiful along the trails and wilderness places in the Wood Buffalo region and many other locations in Alberta. They provide plentiful food to animals as well as people.
The story refers to the family checking “traps.” Friends of my family had a trapline west of Fort McMurray. While I was working as a freelance writer for a newspaper, I interviewed the guy who did the actual trapping and cleaning of the furs. He sold them to a fur dealer who in turn sold the fur to clothing manufacturers. It was interesting to learn about the process. There were several other traplines in the vicinity. Trapping is a heavily regulated practice which involves licensing, permits, leasing of land, and many other concerns. The government issues permits for trapping in consultation with wildlife biologists who determine the populations of wildlife. The wildlife biologists want to ensure that all species have healthy populations. When there is an overabundance of animals, more permits are issues. This is similar to the way that game licenses are issued.
Summer North Coming, Winter North Coming refers to elders. Elders are highly respected in Indigenous groups. Bands and associations regularly hold Elder Teas and other events to honour the elders among them. They are revered for their wisdom and experience, and provide comfort and advice to those who are younger.
The whimsical scenes in the centre of the stories were created by the illustrator. Interestingly, I previously wrote in a blog post about how I can fly in my dreams. Also, many Indigenous people are spiritual, whether connected to their traditional beliefs or Christians, or any number of other faith groups. As with all people, there are no stereotypes. People make their own decisions based on their own preferences and experiences.
The family in the story uses a dog sled. When my husband and I visited Wood Buffalo National Park and camped at Dog Head Point west of Fort Chipewyan, there were a lot of ferrel dogs around. They were harmless, but they did get into our food stores. Many people still use dog sleds and it was a traditional means of transportation. The dogs are well equipped to live in the cold weather with their thick fur coats.
As a freelance writer, I interviewed a dog musher who lives just outside Fort McMurray: McMurray Mush. This musher races her dog team in events around the country. She takes great care of her animals; they are like her family members.
The further north I have travelled, the more often I saw Indigenous people using hand-built wooden skiffs. My good friend, the artisan who makes birch bark baskets, uses a jet boat with her family to travel from Fort Chipewyan to Fort McMurray and back on the Athabasca River. Many others do, too.
WINTER CAMPING, QUINZEES
I don’t know if most Indigenous people camp in the winter now, or if quinzees are of Indigenous invention, but some of my family members camp outside in the winter. Also, my kids learned how to make quinzees from other kids.